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Reports released by the B.C. government last week reveal that of the $7 billion money laundered in BC in 2018, $5.3B (or 72%) was in real estate.  Both revealed how criminals are using real estate to clean their money. As a result, the BC Government has called for a public enquiry into the problem.

The premier says, “The depth and the magnitude of money laundering in British Columbia was far worse than we imagined.”  Finance Minister Carole James says, "Housing should provide shelter, not a vehicle for proceeds of crime."  She continues, “Homes in BC are for people, not speculative investment or money laundering.”

However, is a public enquiry needed?  We have extensive material from two recently released reports.  Is there anything more we can learn?  Let’s do a quick review of what we do know.

The two recently released reports that have sparked the public enquiry are the  Combating Money Laundering in B.C. Real Estate report which puts forward 29 recommendations; and the aptly named, Dirty Money Part 2 which outlines some of the red flags that signal when illegal money is behind a real-estate purchase — including unfinanced purchases, private lending, unusual interest rates and purchases by homemakers and students.  Both documents identify numerous gaps in provincial and federal regulatory systems for keeping track of purchases and reporting suspicious transactions. 

There are many actions to be taken.  The BC Government has already taken some action that includes introducing proposed legislation called the "Land Owner Transparency Act.”  This Act would establish a public registry of beneficial owners of property in BC.  Corporations, trusts and partnerships that buy land would be required to disclose their beneficial owners in the registry hopefully ending the use of these vehicles to shield real estate purchases. Transparency International Canada highlighted Vancouver real estate in a 2016 report, concluding nearly one-third of the 100 most valuable residential properties in Greater Vancouver were owned by shell companies.

There is also the 30 Point Housing Plan – BC Document.   The main features of the plan are a speculation tax, a ramped-up foreign buyers’ tax, and a new property transfer tax:

  • The speculation tax is aimed at both the current 25,000 and future residences owned by local profiteers, out-of-province investors and “satellite families” who buy up housing stock and leave the homes empty, or vest nominal ownership in a “homemaker” or “student” who pays little if any taxes.  If it is found that the declared taxable household incomes are lower than the amount they pay in property taxes, utilities and mortgage payments; and equivalent incomes to those reported in the Downtown Eastside. CRA estimates that about $170 million in taxes went uncollected from BC real estate over the past three years. The speculation tax aims to fix this disconnect between declared income and housing wealth.

  • The existing (and largely ineffectual) 15 per cent Metro Vancouver foreign buyers’ tax will increase to 20 per cent; and

  • The new 5 per cent property transfer tax will target sales of homes worth $3 million and up.

These are the efforts underway to undo a decade of political indifference that turned Vancouver into an epicentre of fraud, scams and real estate mania.  Will this be enough?  The current picture of the Vancouver housing market is not pretty.  Here is more data.

A Globe investigation;"> published in February, 2018, uncovered how 17 underground lenders provided $47 million in drug-money mortgages and liens on 45 Metro Vancouver mansions. An RCMP intelligence report estimated that up to $1-billion from the proceeds of crime was used to purchase expensive Metro Vancouver homes.

Vancouver has become known as a free trade zone for gangland money launderers, absentee offshore real-estate speculators, Chinese princelings on the lam and globe-trotting tax frauds. Over the past decade, homelessness has doubled, at least 4,000 people are sleeping rough in the streets, and there are now 70 homeless camps across the region.

In January 2018, Vancouver showed up as the third most unaffordable city on Demographia’s list of 92 cities around the world. When it comes to cities undergoing a deterioration in housing affordability, Vancouver ends up the worst. 

At least we have a starting point and a current BC Government that has expressed their commitment to address the issues.  The Public Enquiry will release an interim report within 18 months and a final report by May 2021. The BC election is scheduled for October 2021.

We at CCEC plan to keep our members informed on developments in this area.

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Raise the Rates says that the BC Government $2million grant for “food rescue” operations will not solve the problem of food insecurity in BC as the root cause is income poverty.  

They say, “Distributing surplus food has won out over raising welfare rates to enable the hungry and homeless to afford to feed themselves and their families. The year’s humiliating $50 monthly benefit increase keeps them with incomes 50 per cent below the poverty line.” Cash is needed to shop for food in normal and customary ways: a living wage, adequate income benefits, real rent control.

Click here to read the article as it appeared in the Tyee.

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Congratulations to First Call, the BCFed, WestCoast LEAF, the Employment Standards Coalition, and many more for your continued and tenacious advocacy on employment standards. 

On April 29th, 2019 BC’s Minister of Labour introduced Bill 8 in the legislature that will amend the Employment Standards Act to provide better protections for children and adolescents who are working.

This Bill modernizes BC’s employment laws and brings us into compliance with international standards, specifically the International Labour Organization’s Convention 138 on the minimum age of employment – an agreement the Government of Canada ratified in 2016.

 Once enacted, Bill 8 will:

  •  raise the age for formal employment, (this is the age that does not require government oversight), from 12 to 16;
  •  prohibit hazardous work for those under 16;
  • compel government to develop a list of acceptable tasks and conditions (e.g. hours of employment, time of day) for the employment of children aged 14 and 15; 
  •  allow the Director of the Employment Standards Branch to consider applications for permits to hire those under the age of 14; 
  •  compel government to define “hazardous industries and work” prohibitions and regulations for 16 to 18 year olds.

 While these legislative changes set a direction that will greatly improve protections for working children and adolescents, the Ministry must now engage with British Columbians (including youth with recent employment experience), as well as review workplace injury data to determine what jobs, tasks and hours are appropriate.

The BCFed says, the Employment Standards Act will also now provide a more just level of protection for BC workers, including scrapping the self-help kit and extending wage recovery times.  And WestCoast LEAF highlights that the government has introduced leave time for domestic violence but it must be paid to ensure those in need can access it.

While First Call welcome changes that prioritize the health and safety of BC’s children and youth, they say that the Ministry must now engage with British Columbians (including youth with recent employment experience), as well as review workplace injury data to determine what jobs, tasks and hours are appropriate.

First Call has been calling for change for over 15 years! For years, WorkSafeBC data has shown that too many children – 12 to 14-yr-olds are getting injured working in construction, manufacturing, trade and service jobs.

CCEC has signed on as an official supporter of First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition.  

Click here to learn more about the campaigns of First Call and how you can get involved.

 

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The recently announced "First-Time Home Buyer Incentive" is a new way for government to stimulate demand for new housing and for mortgages, while representing the program as 'helping' young Canadians into the market.  Inducing young people into long-term debt obligations is not necessarily in their best interests. 

Under this program, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ('CMHC', a crown corporation) agrees to be a 'co-owner' of the qualifying property.  In addition, the borrower will have a CMHC insured high ratio mortgage, for which they pay a good fee.  In effect the buyer has to put up less savings to make the deal work.   

In economic terms, this kind of program brings new buyers into a market which puts upward pressure on prices.  This is one of the points made in a recent piece by Rita Trichur in the Globe.  Paradoxically, up price pressures are not benefiting new buyers who have limited debt servicing capacity. 

Additionally, the criteria for qualification may make the program irrelevant in the over-heated markets of Greater Vancouver and Toronto. The program criteria say household income may not exceed $120k, and the property value cannot exceed four-times that income (or $480k).  

Administratively, the program adds complications by introducing a new set of qualifications. In doing so it makes the process more cumbersome for a new buyer.  The program essentially reverses the constraints implemented in recent years on the mortgage insurance program which had required more direct investment by new home buyers, up to at least 10%.  Perhaps backtracking on the mortgage insurance front was viewed as politically unwise, so they've cloaked it. 

CMHC is still working out how this program will work.  However, it appears to be a pre-election gimmick more than a realistic housing program. It is unlikely to have significant beneficial impact in the cities with serious affordability problems. 

 

 

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Housing and land-use regulation are the biggest factors in affordability; those are responsibility of provincial, regional and municipal governments. There's little the federal government can do to improve housing affordability.

Learn more. CCEC has partnered with DOXA as a screening partner for PUSH, a global view on the housing crisis.

So the benefits of the recently announced federal government’s measures will be modest. For example, the increased RRSP withdrawal is equal to only six months of the average house-price increase since 2000. Between 2000 and 2015, average house prices increased about three times the increase rate of incomes.

The shared-equity mortgages, for example, would be available only to first-time-buyer households with annual incomes under $120,000. The CMHC mortgage limitation would further restrict the maximum mortgages to $480,000. Shared-equity mortgages are not very effective in Vancouver where most house prices are too costly for a $480,000 mortgage.

Yet the housing affordability crisis is serious. Vancouver ranked as the second-least affordable among 90 major metropolitan areas in nine nations in the latest Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey(released in Canada by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy), trailing only Hong Kong. 

The Vancouver housing-affordability crisis has also developed as our City Government has developed some of the most restrictive land-use policies in the high-income world. 

With our local urban-containment policy, denser, high-rise housing offers virtually no help. In Vancouver, condominium prices are nearly equal to detached house prices 10 years ago. This does not take into consideration the smaller size of condominiums compared to houses. Moreover high-rise condominiums provide no yards in which children can play, which makes them less family-friendly.

The average detached house in Vancouver averages about $1.5 million. Cities including Victoria and Kelowna now show average house prices equaling the $1 million in Toronto.

Solving Canada’s housing affordability crisis will require provincial, regional and municipal action. It must start with addressing the price of land, which is the proximate cause of both the housing affordability and cost-of-living crises.

(Points from National Post article by Wendell Cox, senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, co-author of the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey and author of Demographia World Urban Areas.   https://business.financialpost.com/opinion/why-ottawas-attempts-to-help-young-canadians-afford-housing-simply-wont-work)

CCEC is pleased to partner with DOXA as a screening partner for PUSH, a global view on the housing crisis.

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April 24: Join the ACORN Fair Banking Campaign Rally at Fairstone Metrotown. 

At CCEC we support the work of ACORN Fair Banking campaign. and have been providing our members with emergency short term loans for many years. We also provide debt consolidation services to help our members avoid the predatory lenders. 

Non-bank lenders like Fairstone are unregulated when they give out loans over $1500. They give out loans up to $20,000 at rates as high as 59%  which is still considered legal (under 60% is legal in Canada). Fairstone recently rebranded from CITI Financial. You may have heard of them as they were a leader in the US with predatory mortgages. In the US, they paid penalties of over $7 Billion for their role in financially destroying millions of Americans. So, they renamed their high interest loan outlets as Fairstone. ACORN's campaign for Fair Banking is putting Fairstone on notice that their days of unregulated lending are coming to an end.

The BC Government has introduced legislation that would license high-interest lenders, enabling them to cap the interest rates and other predatory lending practices. "Regrettably many people do not understand the true implications of taking out a high-cost loan only to find out later how hard and how long it can take to repay,” says Scott Hannah, president of the Credit Counselling Society.

Email Metrovan@acorncanada.org for more info on ACORN's campaign and be sure to join the rally on April 24!  

Call CCEC if you need a short term or other loan. We want to work with our members to avoid them feeling they need to work with predatory lenders. 

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BC has a high rate of foreign ownership. Why? Wealthy people in unstable regimes want to buy here; we have a history of 'selling passports or residency' to wealthy families; and our current tax system subsidizes foreign ownership. The tax called the Speculation and Vacancy Tax (SVT) is aimed at limiting speculation, not necessarily taxing “speculators”.

Read this article for more information  The Speculation and Vacancy Tax: An Explainer Josh Gordon School of Public Policy, Simon Fraser University March 4, 2019.  A few points from the article are noted here.

CRA  allows a wealthy person to access all of the social services and public amenities as the high-earning local individual, but not pay income taxes. They can file as a non-tax resident, even if their family resides here. This is the so called “satellite family” situation. Gordon, in his article, states that we can address this issue in the tax system by imposing a property surtax on families who have most of their income earned abroad. The speculation component of the SVT seeks to address a tax avoidance problem. 

However, there are many exemptions and foreign owners and satellite families are able to avoid a speculation tax liability if they rent out their properties to an arms-length tenant, in whole or in part. The  SVT aims to encourage unused housing units into the rental market with vacancy taxes. For many,  housing sitting empty, especially as speculative investments, in the midst of a housing crisis is unacceptable.

So, “Why don’t we just ban foreign ownership already?” Some have urged banning foreign ownership as an alternative to the SVT. With the foreign buyer tax, currently at 20%, purchases by foreign buyers are already down substantially at only 2-3 percent of total purchases last year in affected areas. 

The housing crisis is not an easy problem to solve. Learn more by reading this article about the SVT - Speculation and Vacancy Tax and it's intent and aims.  Tell us what you think. 

Read this article for more information  The Speculation and Vacancy Tax: An Explainer Josh Gordon School of Public Policy, Simon Fraser University March 4, 2019.​

 

 

 

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Rent increases, renovictions, gentrification and unaffordability is a key issue we hear from those who have completed our member survey. CCEC is sponsoring Push at the 2019 DOXA Festival. The issue is not about gentrification, it’s a different kind of monster: Housing as a financial asset, a place to park money. The film looks at housing prices skyrocketing in cities worldwide. Longtime residents are pushed out. Not even nurses, policemen and firefighters can afford to live in the cities that they are supposed to protect. Push investigates why we can’t afford to live in our own cities anymore. Housing is a fundamental human right, a precondition to a safe and healthy life. But in cities all around the world having a place to live is becoming more and more difficult. Who are the players and what are the factors that make housing one of today’s most pressing world issues?  Click here to read more about the film. 

May 4 12:00nn Vancity Theatre: part of the Justice Forum and includes a post-film discussion.

May 10 6:00pm SFU

Buy Tickets here

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If you have a moment this Spring, it’s time for a bit of comedy from Theatre In the Raw. As part of its 25th season of production, Vancouver’s Theatre In the Raw is presenting the uproarious play Enter Laughing by Joseph Stein adapted from Carl Reiner’s novel. Carl Reiner, a well-known comedian with many credits to his name, was instrumental part of Sid Caesar’s hilarious TV comedy series Your Show of Shows and other endeavors. The show runs for 10 performances at Studio 16 (1551 West 7th Ave) between May 8th and May 19th.

In the mid-1930s in NYC, David Kolowitz is on track to fulfill all of his parent’s hopes and dreams by becoming a druggist. David Kolowitz however, has ideas of his own.


David Kolowitz wants to be an actor. Loosely based on Carl Reiner’s autobiography,

Enter Laughing focuses on the first awkward steps a performer takes into the limelight.

This ensemble cast features Adam Olgui, Jacques Lalonde, R. David Stephens, Elliot Wesley, Janis Harper, Giuseppe Bevilacqua, Jennie McCahill, Noella Ansaldi, Ralston Harris, Lisa Robertson, Stanley Fraser, and Gavi Beigel under the direction of Theatre In the Raw’s artistic director Jay Hamburger.

Come celebrate a quarter century of theatre production by Theatre In the Raw with Enter Laughing by Joseph Stein – May 8th to 19th at Studio 16. Perhaps never done before in the Lower Mainland, it’s a show not to be missed. Tickets on sale now at www.theatreintheraw.ca.

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My book, The Co-op Revolution (Caitlin Press), talks about Roger Inman, CCEC and 1970's co-ops.  It is an account of my time with the co-op movement in Vancouver’s activist years of the 1970s. I was a founder and member of CRS Workers’ Co-op, an organization that was owned and managed by us. We started four projects in Vancouver, all to do with food production and distribution: a cannery that preserved BC fruit in honey, a beekeeping co-op, a bakery and a food wholesaler. As well, we helped other small food co-ops get started.

Sometime in the autumn of 1975 Michael Goldstein showed up at the Pandora Street office of CRS Workers’ Co-op with a sheaf of documents in hand. We knew that the co-op movement possessed its own form of financial institution founded by the people, for the people’s well-being. So when Michael told our group that he and others were trying to organize just such a credit union to be called CCEC, we were happy to sign up. Several of us signed on a charter document that night and some of us expressed interest on serving on the new credit union’s committees when it received its charter in 1976. Right on!—as we said in those days. This was what co-operatives needed—access to funds that were not governed by the big business of Canada's banks or subject to the day’s political whims. The credit union movement would be a big boon to women in business as well, recognizing their abilities to manage a loan without requiring a man at the helm.

From The Co-op Revolution: “Most of us opened our personal share/saving accounts at CCEC when it moved to its first real office at 205 E. 6th Avenue. I was member number 32 and my deposit card reports that on March 4, 1976, I deposited $4 to open my account, after which the deposits and withdrawals continued sporadically until 1981. That first transaction was initialed by K, which probably stood for Katherine Ruffen, the first manager.

The best thing about this credit union was its personal service in the days before ATM machines. If I had neglected to withdraw cash on a Friday for the weekend’s activities, I could call Katherine at work and tell her I was on my way. “Please don’t leave until I get there,” I would say, and I would arrive minutes before closing time.  It’s doubtful whether any bank or credit union today would be concerned about my lack of cash for the weekend.” 

One member of our co-op, Roger Inman, served CCEC Credit Union loyally and after his death in 1989 a memorial award commemorated his work. The award is given by CCEC annually in recognition of a project that has made a significant contribution to the economic development of the community. And that’s how Roger would have wanted it.  

I first met Roger in 1975 when I moved to Vancouver from Ontario. He had moved from Winnipeg around the same time with his tent in his backpack and had heard about CRS starting the Tunnel Canary cannery. He didn’t know much about co-ops or canning at the time but he was most enthusiastic about the project and his sense of humour helped us to get through some of the hot, labour intensive work of processing fruit and jam. Roger continued to work with the cannery collective until its demise when he turned to another CRS project, Uprising Breads Bakery.

There’s more about Roger and other CRS workers in my book, The Co-op Revolution. I’ll be reading from it at the Vancouver Public Library main branch on Tuesday, April 23 at 7 p.m. All are welcome to attend and books will be for sale. (For more, see: jandegrass.com).

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